It is perhaps a surprise to hear Matt Prior praising the second string to Ben Foakes’ bow when asked about the extraordinary wicketkeeping that illuminated the second Test.
‘Everybody talks about Ben as a pure keeper but I worry that does him a disservice because he’s a really accomplished batsman too,’ said Prior, who had an outstanding Test himself in the talkSPORT commentary box.
‘He’s played over a hundred first-class games and averages just under 39. That’s good, certainly for a keeper. So I’d hate for him to be pigeon-holed as this purist wicketkeeper.
England’s Ben Foakes (above) has been hailed by former England wicketkeeper Matt Prior
Few are better qualified than Prior (above) to judge the all-round package of Foakes
The big question is whether Foakes can usurp Jos Buttler beyond the final Tests against India
‘People talk of being a keeper-batsman or batsman-keeper but frankly that doesn’t matter. You just have to pick the right person for your team.
‘Your keeper now is expected to bat at seven, score hundreds and manage the lower order. And make as few mistakes with the gloves as you can.
‘It doesn’t matter if you’re Ben Foakes, Jos Buttler, Jonny Bairstow, Jack Russell or Alan Knott, you will still make the odd mistake. But you look at the all-round package and say “he’s our best guy”.’
Few are better qualified than Prior to judge whether the all-round package of Foakes will be enough to earn him a place beyond the last two Tests against India.
Prior, 38, started off primarily as a batsman before turning himself into a world-class keeper and the heartbeat of the England team that won the Ashes in Australia and went to the top of the world rankings.
Now, six years after injury cut short his career and he turned his hand to business, he is hoping to make a more regular return to cricket as a pundit and perhaps a coach.
‘I did think Ben was fantastic,’ said Prior. ‘As a keeper you usually say if you don’t get noticed you’re doing a good job. But every now and then you get a pitch that allows you to show off your skill and that was the surface for Foakes to show how good he is.
Prior, 38, started off primarily as a batsman before turning himself into a world-class keeper
‘The standout for me and any keeper watching, and I saw Adam Gilchrist tweeted something about him, was how easy he made it look. The stumpings and everything else were great but there were a few takes where I just thought, “I know how hard that skill is and he’s made it look so comfortable”. The fact there were so few extras was remarkable.’
The big question is whether it is enough for Foakes to usurp Buttler. ‘I thought Jos kept really well last summer and in the first Test against India and we know he has the X-factor with the bat,’ Prior tells Sportsmail.
‘He can win games for England no-one else could. Go back to last year against Pakistan and that innings he played in the first Test under huge pressure. For me, that was his breakthrough moment as a Test cricketer.
‘People were calling for his head and he went out and won a game for England. He would have taken so much confidence and belief from that and he will only grow.
‘I’d hate for him to be pigeon-holed as this purist wicketkeeper,’ Prior said of Foakes
‘But the fact remains every time you allow someone else in — and I’m not saying they shouldn’t because the rest and rotation is warranted — you give them a chance.
‘If Foakes keeps beautifully again in the next two Tests and also goes 100, 150, it’s a fair question to say, “Hang on, everyone says he’s a keeping purist but his stats are better than Jos”. Suddenly he might look the better package. He has been given a chance to outperform Jos and that’s all he can do.’
Prior is relishing talking about cricket again. His time out saw him launch the ONE PRO company that is now mainly concentrating on nutrition — the England players can be regularly seen consuming his energy gels — but he feels the time is now right for him to return more regularly to the game that brought him so much success with England.
‘I look at things very differently now I’ve been out in the big wide world,’ he said.
Foakes’ extraordinary wicketkeeping illuminated England’s second Test defeat by India
‘I’m not just in that England bubble with a skewed view. I feel like I’ve got a far more rounded view on the cricket world and it’s exciting to come back and see what I can do.’
Prior has certainly learnt a lot in the ‘real world’. ‘To go away from cricket and set up a new business and now watch some of the best in the world using our products makes everyone involved very proud,’ he said.
‘I remember thinking when I was involved in that horrible 5-0 loss in Australia that it would be the most intense environment I would experience. But that was until I owned a business and Covid-19 came along and I found myself dealing with furlough letters and people’s livelihoods. It’s a responsibility I take very seriously.
‘For us and our little business it was a remarkable challenge but one I’m really pleased to say we managed to ride and circumnavigate our way through.
‘If any business wants success it needs resilience and you have to come through those challenging times. They’re still challenging, of course, but we’ve managed to stabilise quite nicely.’
Now Prior is enthused about watching England’s attempt to recover from that heavy defeat.
‘I so enjoyed that last Test,’ he said. ‘I know there was all that talk about the pitch but what it did do was bring out some high-level skill from both teams.
‘Whether that was Foakes’ keeping, or Virat Kohli’s batting or Rohit Sharma’s 160. It was great to watch guys at the top of their game.
‘The series is wide open. This England team know how to win in India and it will be all about big runs now.
‘Joe Root has been in sublime form but we have to see other guys supporting him. If they can score big runs they’ve got a fantastic chance.’
Matt Prior is the founder of ONE PRO Nutrition — clean performance nutrition for active people www.onepronutrition.com